My first impression of Ushuaia was that it was windy and I do mean windy! I was wearing everything I owned and still it cut straight through and I kept thinking that if this is their idea of summer they can keep their winter. The locals say summer is worse because of the wind and that winter is cold but a dry and windless cold making it better but I still don’t want to be around to test the theory.
Ushuaia airport is only 3-4 kms from town so technically you could walk it depending on how much luggage you have but I had heard the taxis into town were only $50 ARS when in actual fact it cost me $100 ARS from the airport to my hostel. Sure I was a couple of blocks further up the hill than the main strip but I still wasn’t expecting that price to get a couple of kilometers from the airport to town.
There really isn’t much in Ushuaia itself unless you like mass produced and overpriced souvenir shops. You can find everything you need on the main street which is San Martin and walking the length is a great way to waste a few hours but be prepared to spend. Most of the attractions are out of town and you can hire a car, book a tour or do what I did and find some people in the hostel to share taxi rides or hitch with. I did the following activities over 7 days in Ushuaia:
Martial Glacier –
In keeping with my ‘find the highest point of any new location’ I climbed up to the Martial Glacier which was a nice enough walk and gave a great view back over the town and onto Beagle Channel but was a crap glacier as far as my limited experience with glaciers goes. I kept thinking there had to be more to it and that maybe it extended over the back of the mountain but no – what you see is what you get and what you see is a patch of melting snow on the side of a mountain. If you have ever seen dirty snow on the side of a road then you have seen this glacier so I would say don’t bother unless you’re doing it for the view of the town. (It did look more impressive after fresh snow so maybe it is more impressive in winter?)
I walked from the town center up to the start though I was told you can catch a taxi to drive the 7kms for $100 ARS. If you walk, there is a path that short cuts all the switch backs and keeps you off the road for the majority of the way. The chair lift was not in operation when I was there so check the operating times if you’re not prepared to walk up (chair lift only takes you part way).
There were a few different walking trails available once up there and I walked the glacier trail plus the Del Filo trail to a lookout further around the mountain. It was a similar view but the lookout was on the edge of the hill rather than set back in the valley like the glacier was. Once finished I again chose to walk back to town but there is a taxi stand at the bottom of the chair lift if you decide you have had enough walking and a few restaurants/cafes if you don’t have your own supplies.
Tres Marias Sailing Boat If (Sea Lion Island, Birds Island, Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and hiking on H Island) –
It seems forced but when in Ushuaia every single tourist does some sort of cruise on the Beagle Channel to see the Lighthouse. There are any number of different cruise options for both the morning and afternoon and for the most part all tour providers offer similar cruises but there are slight variations so do your research (visitors information center will give you a list of tour providers and the differences in their tours).
I wasn’t interested in fighting my way onto a catamaran and trying to take pictures with 20 people in the way so chose a slightly more expensive tour which was on a sail boat and limited to 10 people. The woman also did a great sales job on me which was another reason I chose Tres Marias which does have a bigger boat as well as the smaller sail cruise. I booked in for the afternoon session which meant I paid my money to reserve my place then came back to the office at 2:30pm to finalise the paperwork.
It can seem a bit chaotic during this half hour as you need to put your name on a clip board that gets passed around, pay your $15 ARS port tax so you can actually leave on the cruise and then fight your way through the masses to get a cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate. Once the paperwork is sorted you are rounded up at 3pm and escorted through port security which actually checks for nothing and walked along the dock to your respective boats. As we had the sail boat it was easy to find ours but we had to remain below decks until out of the port.
Once on deck we all found a spot to sit and enjoy the view of Ushuaia and the Beagle channel and the deck hand came out to answer any questions we had or explain some history etc. After a bit of penguin and cormorant watching we arrived at the lighthouse and did a lap around it so everyone could get pictures and a good view. I can’t say I was much impressed by the lighthouse but others were, so maybe it was just me with unrealistic expectations given how much it’s talked about. They say that because it marks the end of the world it feels isolated but I didn’t get that feeling and have felt more isolated in Australia or other countries I have visited than here. After the lighthouse it was back around to seal island which was pretty cool to see them just lying there and if you haven’t seen seals before this is definitely worth it.
A couple more islands later and after a hot drink with a snack we arrived at H Island where we docked to go trekking. This is the only tour company that offers trekking on this island but don’t be fooled by the word trekking as it’s more a stroll. Maybe because we had 2 women with mobility difficulties the guide chose an easy walk but it was not a trek by any means. We wandered around looking at a couple of different plants and vegetation in general, talked about any birds we saw and then tried a berry and wild celery as something to eat. After that he showed everyone kelp and explained its beauty functions and for those that wanted they got to rub it on their skin to test it out.
Then it was a slow wander back to the boat and once everyone was loaded we headed back to Ushuaia. The wind had picked up by this stage so they set the sail, everyone got dressed into the wet weather gear provided on board and sat on deck getting scared as the boat ripped through the waves like a sail ship competing in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. We got back slightly later than intended but definitely worth the effort and was a great cruise so would highly recommend them.
Tierra del Fuego National Park –
Located 12kms out of town it is worth a day visit. You can book a tour, hire a guide or just go yourself for cheaper as there are bus transfers that run every hour starting at 9am from town center to the national park and back again ($200 ARS return). Once at the gates to the national park you will then have to pay $140 ARS for the park entry fee so it is still an expensive day out when you start adding everything up. I caught a taxi out there which was $130 ARS one way and on the meter so when you get a few people in the one taxi it can work out cheaper. It is also rumored that if you arrive before 8am or after 8pm the rangers are not working and you can sneak into the park for free.
We walked the Costera Trail to start with which was beautiful and relatively flat easy going so suitable for the majority of people visiting the park. It wanders along the coast and you can look out over the bay and to the Chilean islands with plenty of time spent in the forest as a contrast to the coastal scenery. It took us about 3 hrs to walk this 8km track and we stopped for plenty of photos etc. and I would say this is one of the most popular tracks in the park.
From there we walked to the start of the Cerro Guanaco Trail which is a more difficult walk but starts deceptively easy by following the Hito XXIV trail. Once further along the shore the trail detours and you turn off to start climbing up rather steep slopes which is indicated by the map saying it is 4km and 4 hours one way. There is a warning sign telling people to not start the walk after 12 noon so they have time to get back down before dark but we ignored this warning and started anyway.
The trail does climb steeply and we had to stop for plenty of rest breaks to catch our breath and rest the legs. Eventually you arrive at a lookout point on some rocks which is beautiful and worth the effort even if you stop there. We decided to push on a bit further and the trail continued to be as steep as when we first started climbing. After a lot of creek crossing and pushing through some wet muddy patches we arrived at a boggy section which took a lot of navigating to get through without getting wet.
Once we eventually found our way through, it continued to get wetter and boggier and it also started to snow. We could see the snow line which we intended to stop at anyway and since we had completed the Coastera Trail earlier that day and our legs were starting to feel it we decided to call it there and head back down but plenty of people pushed through the bog and kept going. Once back down we then had to walk to the gate of the national park again and try to find a taxi. The walk back to the gate was several kilometers and then there were no taxis so we started walking into town and trying to hitch hike. Most cars were full and the taxis we did see were on charter so it was a long walk back to town even if it was cheap.
Laguna Esmeralda –
Located 18kms out of Ushuaia it is worth the effort of getting out there. I shared a taxi with 4 people and while the driver initially tried to charge us $360 ARS one way we talked him down to an even $600 return. On the way out of town we got stopped at a police road block and asked for ID which seemed odd to us but the taxi driver indicated it was normal. He and his papers were checked and so were our passports and ID though when I said I didn’t have any ID on me they waved us through without argument anyway.
The taxi driver dropped us near the dog sledding place and since none of us knew where to go we followed his directions and walked into the café section only for the guy to try charging us $30 ARS for the privilege of using his path to the lake. We knew enough about the walk to know it should be for free so we all walked out and back to the main road where we saw a car park about 100 meters further back towards Ushuaia. Once here there is a small sign indicating the way to Lake Esmeralda and it was free of charge.
The walk starts pleasant enough through the forest and you eventually come through areas where Beavers have cut down all the trees and dammed the creeks and rivers which can make for either a really beautiful photo or a really ugly one depending on your opinion of Beavers in Ushuaia (they were introduced for commercial reasons and when they became unviable they were released to the detriment of the environment and are now considered pests). Once past the Beaver dams the trail wanders through more forest and there are several muddy and boggy sections to navigate through.
Overall it took us about 3 hours to complete the walk but I am sure you could take longer if you were a slow walker or wanted more time at the lake itself. We then walked back to where we had been dropped and waited for the taxi to arrive as per out predesignated time and returned to Ushuaia without a police check or incidents this time.
End of the World Museum –
Is a big yellow building facing the waterfront and if your looking for somewhere to escape the weather this could be a good option. It will cost you $90 ARS to get in which also gives you access to the Old Government House a couple of blocks away.
The museum itself is not that big but there is English translation for most of it and I still managed to spend an hour or so in there including watching some of their old videos about early explorers, the beginnings of Ushuaia etc. There is a small room off the side which has bug and insects in it which was also pretty interesting if you like bugs but again quite small.
Old Government House won’t take you long either and you just show your ticket from the Museum and they wave you through. There is not as much English in this museum but most of it is self-explanatory anyway.
Maritime & Ushuaia’s Old Prison Museum –
Again if you’re looking to get out of the weather for a bit this is a great museum and better than the End of the World Museum in my opinion. It costs you $150 ARS to get in but you can use that on the next day if you want to go back. I mistimed my arrival and there was a boat load of people all trying to get in at the same time which was hectic with such a small entrance way but worth it once you pushed your way through and into the museum itself. I can’t say I was much interested in the maritime museum but they had it set up in such a way that it was fairly interesting and I did spend a bit of time looking at the ship models and reading some of the stories on display.
From there you move further into the prison and learn about some of the prisoners and why they were there, what life was like for them etc. and it did make you appreciate how rough and cold life in Ushuaia must have been for them. In the main section there were 2 levels to wander through so plenty to read and learn about. Once through that section there was an art display in the next wing of the prison some of which was quite good and some not so much like all art displays. It was good to see them support and advertise local artists though.
The third wing of the prison was left exactly the same as what it would have been like in the prison days without heating and you could wander through the bare cells and down the back into the communal bathrooms to really get a sense of what life must have been like for these guys. The fourth wing is converted into a souvenir shop with a small art space at the back and then a small café to savor the moment of being in a prison before wandering back out the same way you entered and fighting back through all those people waiting in the entrance way again.
I think this is worth it and I spent half a day in there though I am sure if you did a guided tour you could spend longer.
I stayed at Amancecer de la Bahia hostel which is 4 blocks further up the hill from San Martin. It was in a good enough location within walking distance to the shops and everything else in town. It had a decent common area and kitchen but the female bathroom was small and flooded easily, internet was patchy at best and while it appeared clean it actually wasn’t. I watched the cleaning staff brush off the sheets then remake the beds between guests so who knows how many people slept in the same sheets before I got there. I paid $1685 ARS for 7 nights accommodation so I am sure there are cheaper and better hostels out there.
Reception staff were friendly and helpful with recommendations on things to see and do and the breakfast was decent enough and better than other places I have stayed in Argentina but the beds and sharing sheets grossed me out and tainted my whole opinion on the place.
- Go to the Visitors Information Centre when in Ushuaia which is located near the port. They speak perfect English and are very helpful with ideas of what to see and do, tour operators or seeing things on your own and on the cheap.
- If you plan on driving around Ushuaia you want to be good at hill starts or get good at them quickly.
- There is a $28 ARS exit fee that everyone flying out of Ushuaia has to pay. Go through normal check in procedure then as you walk towards the departure gates (before you get to security) you will see yellow and blue signs and a ‘London Supply’ sign – pay here and they stamp your boarding pass and give you a receipt as proof. Then continue through security as per normal airport procedure.